By Roy H. Williams
“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”
- Sholem Asch
Ads are like houses. You can do a good job constructing a badly designed house, but when you’re through, you’ve still got a badly designed house. It doesn’t matter how good you are with a hammer and a saw when the blueprints themselves are faulty.
Likewise, it doesn’t matter how good you are with nouns and verbs when the core message itself is boring. There’s no good way to tell a bad story. Ultimately, it is the core message of your campaign - the blueprint - that determines the success of your advertising.
The core message of your ad matters more than how well it is written.
The core message of your ad matters more than how well it is produced.
The core message of your ad matters more than the spokesperson who delivers it for you.
The core message of your ad matters more than your choice of media.
The core message of your ad matters more than the target it reaches.
Give a powerful core message to an average writer and a mom’n’pop business can leap from Main Street, Mayberry, to the New York Stock Exchange. But give an average message to a powerful writer and you’ve got blah, blah, media filler. But you already knew that.
One of my great failures as a human being is that I don’t know how to make small talk. I’m being totally serious with you. I’ve never been able to master the art of talking without saying anything. I suppose it’s why the people I meet in social situations often get the mistaken impression that I don’t like them. My awkward inability to make small talk makes me a horrible party guest, but a better-than-average ad writer.
Let me speak frankly: I’ve been extremely successful as an advertising consultant because I’ve been able to convince courageous businesspeople to throw caution to the wind and say something in their ads that actually matters. Do you remember a chapter in Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads called “John Young’s Fortune?” John Young and his business partner, Jim Abrams, have been clients of mine for a number of years. Here’s an ad they recently let me write for one of their newest franchises. It’s a good example of what I’m talking about:
You just sit there… waiting for the plumber to show up… watching the clock… waiting. Until he finally calls to say, ‘We’re going to have to reschedule for tomorrow.’ Next time, call Benjamin Franklin, the Punctual Plumber. If he isn’t there when he said he’d be, he pays you five dollars a minute. That’s a dollar for every twelve seconds you have to wait. Heck, if Benjamin Franklin makes you wait as long as most plumbers do, you’ll get your problem fixed for free and make a few hundred bucks. Dependable. Honest. Hardworking. Benjamin Franklin, the Punctual Plumber. He pays you if you have to wait.
(Plumbers, don’t steal that ad. It’s copyrighted.)
Now let’s be honest. The power of that ad isn’t in the writing. It’s in the message, “they pay you five dollars a minute. That’s a dollar for every twelve seconds you have to wait.” There’s just no way to say a thing like that without it being powerful.
The secret to successful marketing isn’t copy writing, it’s strategy.
Great ads aren’t born in the hearts of great ad writers. They’re born in the hearts of great businesspeople. Do you have the courage to stand apart from the crowd, to truly be different, and then to shout that message from the housetops? If you do, get ready to see your advertising begin to really pay off.
If you don’t, get ready for business as usual.